Crazy for the white and blue

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob De Walt

One of the many coun­tries to stake a re­cent claim along the paved and pot­holed ar­row to Santa Fe’s ser­vi­cein­dus­try heart is El Sal­vador, a nation whose cui­sine com­bines Span­ish in­flu­ences with the agri­cul­tural tra­di­tions of in­dige­nous cul­tures that in­clude the Pipil, Maya, and Lenca.

At­tached to Days Inn, Pu­puse­ria y Restau­rante Sal­vadoreño gives mo­tel guests — and any­one else will­ing to ven­ture through the ground-floor en­trance on the left-hand side of the mo­tel’s loom­ing, di­lap­i­dated white build­ing — a taste ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond the sur­round­ing burger-chain pale. Cush­ioned chairs and red-clothed ta­bles oc­cupy a ca­sual white-tiled din­ing room that ex­tends into the mo­tel’s lobby, and large ta­pes­tries and flags cel­e­brat­ing El Sal­vador adorn the walls.

On two vis­its, the park­ing lot sat nearly empty, but a brisk take­out busi­ness and a steady trickle of cops, tat­too artists, col­lege kids, re­tail­ers, truck­ers, and neigh­bor­hood re­tirees broad­cast the sig­nal that this kitchen’s wares are well-worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Af­ter munch­ing on the pu­puse­ria’s gratis house-fried corn chips with slightly spicy green salsa, I set my sights on heartier fare. The true test of any Sal­vado­ran res­tau­rant is its pu­pusa, a sta­ple na­tional dish com­pris­ing meat or veg­e­tar­ian fill­ings en­cased in thick, grid­dle­cooked corn-flour or rice-flour dough. Here, they’re all made with corn flour — fluffy and chewy, and choices abound. For $7.50, three pu­pusas ar­rived with tra­di­tional gar­nishes: crema (like sour cream, but a bit looser and more sour) and cur­tido, a sweet-tangy cab­bage slaw with a pleas­antly pi­quant vine­gar base. A wa­tery-yet-de­li­cious and tame red-chile salsa stands at the ready in an over­sized squeeze bot­tle.

The roasted green chile and cheese pu­pusa packed some se­ri­ous heat on my visit. I like it that way, but a lit­tle crema tames the beast if you’re in a milder mood. The pescado pu­pusa — in this case sport­ing some non-sus­tain­able tilapia — wasn’t fishy, and the tasty flesh was shred­ded be­yond vis­ual recog­ni­tion. Ground beef and chichar­rón va­ri­eties are very del­i­cately sea­soned with Pipil spices (all­spice, chile pep­per). While I en­joyed both, up­ping the sea­son­ing might be a good way for the kitchen to dis­tin­guish it­self from the cor­po­rate Taco Belly­buster be­ing erected just down the street.

Per­haps in a bid to ap­pease less ad­ven­tur­ous palates, or be­cause it speaks to the multi-culti ten­den­cies of Santa Fe, you can also or­der a pu­pusa filled with salami and cheese. It’s a fla­vor­less, salty dud. Fug­ghetaboutit. How­ever, loroco — a green vine and flower pop­u­lar in Sal­vado­ran cui­sine — is a must-try in pu­pusa form. While the vines can be chewy, the flo­ral buds im­part a fla­vor akin to ar­ti­choke and as­para­gus. It’s a de­cent veg­e­tar­ian choice here with melted white cheese, al­though the vines could use a lit­tle more time in the steamer or boil­ing liq­uid. An or­der of meaty, sweet, ten­der fried plan­tains with creamy, ad­dic­tive re­fried beans and crema makes for a small, carb-cen­tric meal in it­self.

Try the hor­chata, a sweet­ened, rice-based drink. It smacks of true Sal­vado­ran street food, and it isn’t a sugar bomb as it is in most other restau­rants in town that serve it. A glass of sweet piña (pineap­ple juice) ac­cen­tu­ates the heat of ac­com­pa­ny­ing sal­sas, as does a glass of tamarind juice, which loses its tell­tale puck­ery iden­tity in a sug­ary bliz­zard.

Along with sopa de pata (beef-tripe soup with corn, avail­able Satur­days and Sun­days only), spe­cials have re­cently been added to the res­tau­rant’s reper­toire, and I rec­om­mend pack­ing an ex­tra stom­ach if you or­der one for your­self. An al­most $11 take­out pur­chase of carne asada in­cluded 12 ounces of slightly sea­soned, fatrimmed, well-done flank steak (there is no tem­per­a­ture vari­ance here, it’s all cooked through), a but­tered baked potato, two thick corn tor­tillas, white rice with peas and corn, re­fried beans, a small salad with a side of ranch dress­ing, a floppy plas­tic bag filled with cur­tido, and an­other bag filled with red salsa. It was all de­li­cious, save for the rice, which was over­cooked.

Ser­vice comes with a few lan­guage bar­ri­ers and to-go­con­tainer odd­i­ties, but the staff’s en­thu­si­asm, pride, and friend­li­ness tran­scend cross-cul­tural awk­ward­ness and con­fu­sion. Pu­puse­ria y Restau­rante Sal­vadoreño may be a mouth­ful to say, and it’s cer­tainly lo­cated off the beaten path. But its lack of trendi­ness is ex­actly why it’s such a valu­able and af­ford­able gem in a self-de­scribed food­des­ti­na­tion city that dares to call it­self dif­fer­ent.

Pu­puse­ria y Restau­rante Sal­vadoreño 2900 Cer­ril­los Road (at­tached to Days Inn)

474-3512 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues­days-Sun­days

No al­co­hol Hand­i­capped-ac­ces­si­ble

Take­out avail­able Free on-site park­ing Veg­e­tar­ian op­tions Noise level: quiet Credit cards, no checks

The Short Or­der If you have doubts about din­ing in or next to a mo­tel, shed them right away. At­tached to Days Inn on Cer­ril­los Road,

Pu­puse­ria y Restau­rante Sal­vadoreño

proudly of­fers a true taste of El Sal­vador to din­ers of all stripes. The ca­sual at­mos­phere and come-one-come-all at­ti­tude of the own­ers

and servers add to the many rea­sons this place is fast be­com­ing a lo­cal res­tau­rant trea­sure. Rec­om­mended: fried plan­tains, hor­chata,

and loroco pu­pusas.

Rat­ings range from 0 to 4 chiles. This re­flects the re­viewer’s ex­pe­ri­ence with re­gard to food and drink, at­mos­phere, ser­vice, and value.

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